Could Ronna McDaniel Kill Off The Partisan Talking Head Model Of News Coverage?

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MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 08: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks to members of the media in the spin room following the NBC News Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performin... MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 08: RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks to members of the media in the spin room following the NBC News Republican Presidential Primary Debate at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on November 8, 2023 in Miami, Florida. Five presidential hopefuls squared off in the third Republican primary debate as former U.S. President Donald Trump, currently facing indictments in four locations, declined again to participate. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

Way Past Time To Kill Off This Coverage Model

Ronna McDaniel is such a buffoonish and servile character that her presence on NBC News threatens to topple the partisan talking head model around which the news nets build their political coverage.

It’s been a long time coming.

McDaniel, because of her prior role as an enabler of Donald Trump and the Big Lie of 2020, is an order of magnitude worse than the parade of predecessors who took the revolving door from political operative to network news contributor. But they are not fundamentally different from her. Remember Rick Santorum?

The whole fetid paradigm for political coverage – which probably started with the original CNN Crossfire – should be tossed in the garbage. Along with it should go the dubious tradition of the news networks “sponsoring” political debates, which may look on the surface like a civic endeavor but in reality is a ratings and brand enhancer. Multiple reports suggest that the McDaniel fiasco originated in negotiations she conducted as RNC chair with a NBC News political unit desperate to land a GOP presidential primary debate.

The simplistic formula of talking heads from the right and from the left jousting on live TV as a form of “news” or “coverage” is cheap, easy to produce, and positions the news nets as having convening authority. But substantively? They’re vapid. They always have been. They got worse in the reality TV era, where the “jousting” became the entire point. The more provocative, in-your-face, and over-the-top the pundit, the better the spectacle.

The perverse set of institutional and commercial interests that gave rise to cable news’ surfeit of partisan talking heads hasn’t changed. I’m not under any illusion that the news nets will abandon the format anytime soon.

When even the opponents to McDaniel’s hiring concede that it’s “important to have conservative voices on air,” it suggests the format has continued staying power. Before you write in that I’m trying to silence conservatives, consider whether this format truly gives voice to any side in American politics or is merely its own spectacle serving as a poor proxy for genuine public debate.

MSNBC Blows Up Over Ronna McDaniel

The liberal-branded cable news net was left spluttering over the decision by its broadcast network sibling (parent?) to pay former RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel $300,000 a year to be political contributor.

The corporate and editorial structure between NBC News and MSNBC has always been a bit Byzantine, and there’s precedent for the two entities to alternatively embrace and distance themselves from each other. But nothing quite like this before.

In her long, 12-minute segment last night on the controversy, Rachel Maddow waded into the internal tensions. “Ronna McDaniel will not be on MSNBC,” Maddow told her audience. “And I say that and give you that level of detail because there has been an effort since by other parts of the company to muddy that up in the press and make it seem like that’s not what happened at MSNBC. I can assure you that is what happened at MSNBC.”

Here’s the full segment:

On A More Serious Note

The corporate interest in mollifying MAGA Republicans in order to maintain their steadfast neutrality is precisely the kind of quiet acquiescence that abets a wannabe strongman like Trump.

Princeton Yale historian Timothy Snyder eloquently spoke of this kind of placation … on MSNBC … yesterday:

SCOTUS Hears Abortion Pill Arguments

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments this morning in the mifepristone case out of Texas. TPM will have live coverage with Kate Riga.

To prep you for the arguments, the legal:

  • Politico: Supreme Court hears its biggest abortion case since the fall of Roe
  • NYT: Abortion Pill Dispute Centers on Central Question Of Who Can Sue?
  • CNN: A timeline of how we got here

The lawyering:

  • WSJ: She’s the Brilliant Mind Fighting the Abortion Pill in Court. Her Husband Is a Senator.
  • NYT: Erin Hawley, The Woman Arguing Against the Abortion Pill

The practical:

  • NYT: What’s at Stake and What’s Next

The political:

  • Aaron Blake: Why the Supreme Court abortion pill case is so fraught for the right

Trump Gets A New Trial Date

The trial judge in the New York hush money case was unimpressed by the pre-trial dispute Trump attempted to gin up to force a substantial delay in his upcoming trial. He reset the trial for April 15, which means Trump did succeed in delaying it three weeks but failed to push it past the November election.

Trump Gets Some Relief From Mammoth Civil Judgment

A mixed bag for Trump in the civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James when an appeals court gave him 10 extra days to come up with an appeal bond and dramatically reduced the size of the bond to $175 million. Not an inherently unreasonable decision, even though it adds to the general sense that Trump continues to skate. But $175 million ain’t nothing. It’s a lot to cough up and it’s there for James’ taking if Trump through other legal means ultimately loses on appeal, which is easier for her to do than seizing his property to pay the judgement.

I See …

Reuters: Billionaires sought to help fund Trump bond in civil fraud case, sources say

Sign Of The Times

The DOJ announced Monday at as press conference in Arizona that it is investigating dozens of threats against election workers and has charged 20 people so far. Arizona has been an epicenter of the threats.

Black Swan Event

The House GOP majority is now so narrow that the possibility of the lower chamber flipping to Democratic control before the November election can’t be ruled out. To be clear, the House has never changed power from one party to another between elections. But the current narrow GOP majority and disaffection within the House GOP conference are prime ingredients for a mid-Congress flip. Fox News’ Chad Pergram, a longtime Hill reporter, games it out.

2024 Ephemera

  • Spoiler alert: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to announce today that his running mate will be Silicon Valley lawyer Nicole Shanahan, a 38-year-old with no prior political experience. Shanahan was married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin from 2018-23.
  • ‘Too Big To Rig’: The goofy origins of Trump’s latest mantra

Bridge Collapse In Baltimore

Unbelievable video of a container ship knocking over the I-895 I-695 bridge overnight, severing a major East Coast transportation link (especially for truck traffic) and shutting down the busy Baltimore harbor to ship traffic:

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